Sometimes you lose the fire. Sometimes, after years of loving something, you can’t find the spark. I’ve had a couple photographers recently tell me they’ve lost it, that they awoke one morning to find their groove had become a rut and they felt trapped and directionless. It happens. And sometimes the answer is just pick up the camera, get out there and see if the muse doesn’t just catch up with you. Sometimes she’s a few steps behind, waiting to see if you’ll just get out there and do the work.
And sometimes, she’s just completely f*cked off. Nowhere to be found. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is make a photograph.
Put the camera down.
Life is too short to be bound by the shoulds and the ought-tos. It is too beautiful to let yourself feel shame or guilt or fear about the thing you love, even if that thing is also your bread & butter. If you do this for a living you might not have the luxury of all the time in the world in which to dig yourself from this rut, but you damn-well better because these bills aren’t going to pay themselves. So these thoughts might apply to you as well, just a little more urgently.
Our creativity depends on so many factors, a solid work ethic being high among them. But it also depends on curiosity and vision, on that spark if not on that fire and if you’re down to embers, it might be worth stopping long enough to fan those embers to flame again.
Without the artist there is no art. You have to protect her. You have to nurture him. Put the camera down. Go for a walk in the woods. Go find some new thing to learn: juggling or cooking or the French Horn. Take a breath. Hell, take yoga and learn to breathe again. Or pick up an old film camera and take on a new project that’s so divergent from what you usually do that you feel a little lost and unsure of yourself, but excited to try something new.
Ruts are just grooves that got a little too deep. Don’t just lie there, change direction. Go the other way. We’re probably there because our groove became safe, became easy, and we’ve a tendency to camp out in safe, easy places. But what’s safe and easy isn’t always good for us, at least not for long. Our creativity needs something to push against, something to explore, some unknown and unpredictable path to poke its head around. Our souls need new problems to solve and much as we fear the next step, now’s the time to take it.
Do something hard. Challenging. Something you’re afraid of. Find another rutted artist and collaborate your way out, or find someone who’s experiencing a really fruitful time and go spend some time with them and see if the fire doesn’t catch a little.
Whatever you do, protect that spark and don’t let it go out. But remember, the spark is not a photography spark. It’s a creative spark, a soul spark, and it could be that the best way to tend it right now is by giving it something different to burn. Write a poem, even if it’s a truly bad poem. Write a song. Take a ceramics course and learn to throw a pot. Learn to paint and explore a new relationship with shape and colour.
When creative people come to me looking for ideas the best I can do is ask them the same questions I ask myself when it feels like the fire’s dying: What are you reading? What new project have you been wrestling with? Who are you spending time with? What are you challenging yourself with? When’s the last time you went to a museum or a concert or a gallery? If you haven’t done something different for a while I have a feeling I know why you’re in that rut. Getting out isn’t hard, it’s just scary.
The spark is still there. It could be you just haven’t given it anything new to consume for a while. Creativity works on an input/output basis. Just like fire, it needs something to burn, if you expect it to produce any heat. You’ve got this. You’re not broken. You haven’t made your last good photograph. But you might have to put the camera down and head out to the wood pile. It’ll be there when you’re ready.
I just got news this week that my book about creativity: A Beautiful Anarchy, When the Life Creative Becomes the Life Created, has been re-printed and is available on Amazon. It’s got a new cover by MoMA artist, and a hero of mine, James Victore, and it’s available for pre-order now – they should be shipping in the next week or so. If this article resonated with you, this book might be helpful. I know it has been for many others. You can find A Beautiful Anarchy on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble.
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